It’s called the Challenge for a reason. Day one came and went in a frenzy of driven rain, cold, buffeting wind and clothing in a state of beyond wetness. It was a harsh start, especially for the uninitiated. Why can I no longer feel my fingers?

This glorious misery was reinforced on day two by rather too much of the same. The tops were out of the question and the river crossings required careful contemplation of one’s own mortality. 

Hard times, wonderful views, part glory, part misery; but, looking back now, it’s never a done deal and we made it across. For me, a 15th crossing, and another 14 days of madness and joy. Did I have bad days? Probably. Did I have a wonderful time again? Absolutely! My highlight days? All of them! They were all different and all in some way memorable.

Day three, and that crazy off-piste clamber in the heat up to the pimple, and the navigational challenge to get back down to Cannich in time for beer o’clock. Music, friends and the loveliness that is Ault-na-Goire. Bushwhacking into the semi-darkness to the octagonal bothy, and the following day’s conversation on Carn an Fhreiceadain.

Standing alone, buffeted on top of Ben Macdui. The inevitable Braemar meet-ups. The tree devastation heading to Glen Clova, and an off-piste adventure to Tarfside, where deep joy, they opened the Mason’s bar. A beautiful walk to Edzell and the night at North Water Bridge. And the final hike to the east coast with friends old and new.

As with every time, the Challenge stretched out in front of me for days; and suddenly it was over far too soon.